The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a stand-alone speculative fiction novel by V.E. Schwab, the author of The Shades of Magic trilogy (A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, A Conjuring of Light) and other epic fantasy books. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is qualitatively different from these works; it’s more reminiscent of books written by Claire North, like The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which often have an intriguing supernatural premise or gimmick with a somewhat shallow depiction of the characters. In The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue the main character makes a deal with the devil to live forever but the catch is that it will be an “invisible life.”
Addie LaRue is a young woman in 1714 who asks the gods to save her from an arranged marriage and her wish is granted in that she will never age or die but the conditions are that no one will ever remember her, she can own no property, make new things or leave a mark on the world. The devil, who she comes to know as Luc (short for Lucifer, get it?), appears to her as a dark, handsome stranger on the anniversary of the granting of the wish and asks Addie if she’s ready to give him her soul yet. Addie’s first year living invisibly is incredibly tough as she figures out the rules of her situation and tries to do basic things like eat and find a place to live in a world where everyone forgets her the moment she leaves their sight. However, even though she is now a stranger to her mother and father and everyone she has ever known or will know, Addie declines Luc’s offer to give up (her soul and her life) after one year of living an invisible life.
One interesting aspect of the book for me is when we discover how Addie finds a large loophole in one aspect of the devil's deal. She can make a mark on the world, but she can only do so by serving as a muse and inspiration for works of art created by other people. It turns out that Addie happens to have seven freckles on her face in a distinctive (and memorable) pattern, and although she can’t be remembered, this motif can be, and is, included in multiple works of art (depicted in the pages of the novel) over the next 300 years as we follow Addie’s life.
The fact that we follow Addie for centuries without the basic contours of the story changing is a downside of the impact of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue for me. The middle section of the book is somewhat repetitive (we see how Addie has lots and lots of one-night stands, how she has repeated "first-time" interactions with people over and over again). I'm sure this repetition is intention, used by the author to give the reader a taste of how repetitive Addie's life is for her as well. The primary change to the routine is that eventually Luc and Addie have a relationship (after all, he is literally the person who she interacts with the most often, and is the only person who can actually remember her after spending any significant amount of time with her). It doesn’t end well, because even though Luc says he’s in love with her after they have basically been together for twenty years, he still asks her for her soul, and Addie suspects the love affair may have just been a ruse to get her to lower her defenses to his desire.
Another weakness in the book is Addie herself. Even though the passage of time has less significance for her and the rules about her having possessions or leaving a mark on the world are difficult challenges to overcome, I was still disturbed by the lack of growth in Addie’s personality. She’s alive for long enough that she has seen astonishing technological advances and societal changes but she doesn’t seem world-weary or wise beyond her (apparently youthful) age. I suspect this may be a specific authorial choice to have Addie’s personality frozen in time as the 23-year-old woman from a small French village she was when she first gained immortality, but this is not made explicit, so the lack of development of Addie’s character over the course of the book is a puzzling and disappointing choice, to me.
The most interesting part of the novel occurs when Addie returns to a downtown Manhattan used bookstore the day after walking out without paying for a book she picked up and the manager remembers her name, something which hadn’t happened in three centuries. It turns out that Henry, the manager of the bookstore, has made his own deal with Luc, one in which he will forfeit his soul after spending one year in which everyone who sees him will see their heart’s greatest desire. Since Addie’s greatest desire is to be remembered, Henry is able to remember her. Of course, Addie immediately becomes infatuated with Henry and soon they become lovers. As things progress, they each start to become more aware of the magic deal the other had made with Luc. For example, Henry introduces his girlfriend to his friends and family and they only remember her existence for brief moments and so he has to do it over and over again. She sees the way people look at Henry and what special treatment he gets because he is literally the embodiment of all they want, at all times.
In the end, Addie realizes that since she knows Luc so well, she can make a bargain that may be able to save Henry's soul (and life). She finally agrees to be “his” for as long as Luc is interested in having her at his side, but she draws the line at giving up her soul and she has one condition: Henry must be allowed to remember her and the time they spent together even though he will never see her again. Luc agrees to the deal and then we learn that the book we have been reading, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, is the true story of Addie’s life as told to Henry.
This was a nice twist at the end, but for me it didn’t make up for other problematic aspects of the book (the slow pacing through the middle 200 pages, the fact Addie never really matures despite hundreds of years of experience and the way it treats both Luc's and Henry’s characters somewhat superficially). I think I’m in a distinct minority in my opinion of the book as “interesting, somewhat slow and flawed, but worth reading” in that it has over 650,000 ratings with an average of over 4.2 in August 2022 and a cinematic adaptation has been announced.
Regardless, I encourage you to read the book yourself to see if you agree with my review.
Title: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
Author: V.E. Schwab.
Length: 444 pages.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Date Published: October 6, 2020.
Date Read: January 29, 2022.
OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).